Lizzie Loveless is right: You don’t know. It’s possible she doesn’t, either, given that Loveless (née Lieberson) is stepping out on her own for the first time. Her solo debut, You Don’t Know, is a new start, a chance to follow her own musical inclinations after nine years and four albums with her sisters, Teeny and Katherine, in the eclectic indie-pop band TEEN.
TEEN had a fairly wide range, incorporating influences including ’90s R&B, electronica, hazy alt-rock and vintage psychedelia. Loveless narrows her focus on these 10 tracks, gravitating toward lean indie rock, occasional lush synth parts and, as the album unfolds, electronic beats and programmed arrangements. Many of the songs here are attempts to exorcise the lingering ghosts of past relationships as Loveless teeters between regret and relief.
She’s still hurting on “New York, Yesterday,” where she seeks to catch a glimpse of a since-departed lover on the street, her voice breathy and subdued over a stark acoustic guitar part and groaning accents from synths. Midway through, the song expands to include bass and the brushy ping of cymbals, and Loveless’ voice solidifies as she recalls the jealousy and resentment she often felt toward her ex and his fickle behavior. Loveless is less conflicted on the title track, which opens the album. In fact, she’s resolute, determined to walk away from a relationship that doesn’t work, her voice steady and a little vulnerable over a rhythmic, hypnotic organ part doubled by guitar. “So don’t put your arms around me / If all you’re gonna do is say goodbye,” she sings.
When she’s not analyzing emotional wreckage from her past (and maybe even when she is), Loveless is getting to know herself in a new way. On “The Joke,” she wrestles with the effects of health issues that emerged a few years ago just as TEEN were starting a tour. Accompanied by a descending, single-note acoustic guitar part that’s soon joined by a taut drum beat and synth accents, Loveless sings in a crystalline murmur, “All my senses are wrong / Oh what a way to live.” Elsewhere, on “Loveless,” a relentless beat and swaths of whirring synth frame lyrics that are at once introspective, metaphorical and sometimes wildly impulsive, as when she asks someone where they want to go and what they want to be, promising to take them there so they can do it.
Though some of the songs steeped in electronics are less distinctive (“Window” and “Underneath” are each a tad blurry), You Don’t Know is a strong effort from a poised, assured singer who has clearly come into her own as a songwriter. Loveless has a way with sharp lyrical imagery, and she seems unafraid to take chances in her music. More often than not, they pay off. If you don’t know, now you know.
Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013, and writing about music and pop culture for longer than he cares to admit. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website.